THE ISLANDER: My Life in Music and Beyond by Chris Blackwell with Paul Morley

It was my misfortune that the first and only time I encountered Island Records’ founder Chris Blackwell resulted in a prolonged and rather unpleasant exchange of views about the merits of a concert by Traffic at the New York Academy of Music on September 18, 1974, that I reviewed for Melody Maker in less than complimentary terms. 

        “The problem was Chris Wood,” I wrote. “On the opening night Wood collapsed half way through Traffic's first set and didn’t return for the second. At the show I saw, Wood was obviously under the influence of something that prevented him not only from playing with his usual taste, but from pitching the right notes or playing his lines at the right moment.” I closed the review by suggesting that Traffic would have fared better without him.  

        A week or two after this review appeared I happened to be having lunch with my friend Peter Rudge at the Russian Tea Room on 57th Street when Blackwell passed by our table. Rudge knew him well and introduced us but no sooner had he mentioned my name than Blackwell launched into the fierce diatribe about the review. I stood my ground. Blackwell even admitted he hadn’t actually been at the show and, in any case, I figured I had a bit of credit with Island through writing positively, and at length, about Free, Mott The Hoople and Cat Stevens, among others, not that he took this into consideration. The argument raged and was not resolved, though as I recall he threatened to remove Island’s advertising from MM, which turned out to be bluster. After all, we sold 200,000 a week in those days. 

        This was doubly unfortunate for me because I loved Traffic and loved Island Records, the coolest label in town. Like most critics with any gumption I rated Steve Winwood as among the most gifted of UK musicians, and records by his group Traffic, along with those by Free, Mott and Stevens, though not, sadly, Nick Drake, were on heavy rotation in my Bayswater flat. Furthermore, the soundtrack to The Harder They Come turned me into a lifelong reggae fan, and Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire soon joined my other well-played Island albums. 

        All of this came back to me as I read The Islander: My Life In Music And Beyond, Blackwell’s engaging autobiography, written with Paul Morley, whose uncharacteristically restrained editorial contribution belies his tendency to attract controversy and befuddle the reader. 

        Born, as he puts it, into the “Lucky Sperm Club”, Blackwell was a bright, personable, handsome Jack The Lad destined to go places whatever fate threw his way. He learned the record trade in Jamaica, the island of his birth where his family, loosely descended from the Crosse & Blackwell preserve dynasty, occupied a fairly lofty position in society. Expelled from Harrow at 16 for rebellious tendencies, the teenage Blackwell ditched education and scrounged around, mixing with family friends like Ian Fleming, Errol Flynn and Noel Coward, until he found a niche role delivering US R&B singles to premises equipped with juke boxes. Somehow, he was equally at home among the posh white folk and impoverished black population, a rare social skill, and various asides leave little doubt he was on the side of the oppressed in the colonial debate. He also did location work for the first James Bond movie, Dr No, and might have gone into the film business were it not for a soothsayer who advised music. 

        These early chapters offer a fascinating insight into the Jamaican record industry and culture, and explain how Blackwell came to love reggae music and absorb it from the ground up. His return to the UK just as The Beatles were getting off the ground was timely, not the only slice of luck that went his way. Famously, the first hit he produced, in 1964, was the ska-tinged ‘My Boy Lollipop’ by Millie Small, and by this time he’d put in the hours and knew what he was doing. Wisely, he kept a low profile, and made many useful contacts in London’s music world when it was a bit a free-for-all, working alongside managers like Brian Epstein, Andrew Oldham, Kit Lambert and Peter Grant who, like him, were forging a path into unknown territory. 

        Millie was a one-hit-wonder, a lesson Blackwell took to heart insofar as it taught him the wisdom of nurturing musicians for long term careers. The first of these was Steve Winwood, whose genius he recognised in The Spencer Davis Group, whom he managed. He promptly signed Winwood to his own Island Records and supported Traffic’s whimsical excursions, but he hated Blind Faith, especially Ginger Baker with whom he experienced “fifteen minutes of pure fury” during a row in a recording studio. A drug related customs incident didn’t go well either.*

        We learn a lot about Winwood, Nick Drake, John Martyn, Cat Stevens, his fondness for in-house music nut Guy Stevens whose record collection was “considered to be the best in the country”, and love-hate relationship with maverick Jamaican record producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. We also learn that Blackwell passed on Elton John – “too insipid” – Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, the latter two because he thought, correctly, that they would dominate Island to the detriment of others. He missed out on Dire Straits because he was looking the other way during an audition, and saw no future in Madonna. 

        The two biggest acts Blackwell did sign, of course, were Bob Marley and U2. The former, along with the other two original Wailers, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingstone, turned up in his office one day looking for a handout to buy a flight home. To the dismay of his Island staff, who thought they’d rip him off, he gave them £4,000 to make an album which turned out to be Catch A Fire, shrewdly upgraded at his behest to meet the expectations of white rock fans. 

        Blackwell writes about Marley with admiration and great affection, not so Tosh and Livingstone, who resented what they saw as favouritism. Detained elsewhere, he was lucky not to have in the firing line during the attempt on Marley’s life in 1976, and following his death in 1981 the label saw to it that Marley became even more celebrated than in life, largely through the Legend compilation, the brainchild of Dave Robinson who’d joined Island from Stiff and didn’t share Blackwell’s reverence for Marley’s spiritual side. 

        Discussion on U2 is left for much later in the book, after chapters that take in Free (but not Bad Company, of whom there’s scant mention), Roxy Music, Grace Jones, Robert Palmer, Tom Waits and many others, several of whom recorded at Blackwell’s Compass Point studio in the Bahamas. Somewhat ironically, the best-selling album to have been recorded there is AC/DC’s Back In Black, hardly Island fare, but the studio was the home of Sly and Robbie who pissed off James Brown by failing The Godfather of Soul’s subservience test.  

        Blackwell’s interest in U2 was prompted by their press officer Rob Partridge, who in 1973 had taken over from me as Melody Maker’s news editor before joining Island four years later. Rob persuaded a slightly reluctant Blackwell to see them at the Half Moon in Herne Hill. “There seemed to be more people in my entourage than in the paying audience but U2 played as though there were a thousand in front of them,” he writes. “They were bursting out of themselves.” Though unconvinced by their music, Blackwell signed them anyway, adopting a hands-off role that served both parties well, a bit like Ahmet Ertegun’s attitude towards Led Zeppelin, Atlantic’s best-selling act.

        Island grew and grew, at one time employing 120 staff in America alone, and in the end it simply grew too big for him, so in 1989 Blackwell sold out to PolyGram for almost $300 million, 10% of which went to U2 who’d negotiated a stock deal in lieu of royalties that some years earlier Blackwell was unable to pay. This was five times more than the royalties they would have earned, not the only strategic error Blackwell cheerfully admits in the books 400 pages. 

        Following Island Blackwell launched Palm Pictures but found greater success as a hotelier and real estate developer, his current occupation. This began with his acquisition of Golden Eye, the former home of Ian Fleming where he wrote his James Bond books, now a boutique hotel, and in this respect The Islander ends where it began, on the island where Blackwell clearly feels most at home. Back in Jamaica during the pandemic, musing in an epilogue on those he has lost, among them, touchingly, former spouse Mary Vinson, we can but envy the extraordinary life he has led. 

        The book is not without its flaws. Peter Grant wasn’t managing The Jeff Beck Group in 1964 – they weren’t formed until 1967 – or Stone The Crows, as stated on page 107. There are some confusing chronological leaps, and here and there the proof readers have taken their eye off the ball, not least by crediting six photographs to Adrian Boor, which is ironic as my good friend Adrian Boot is among the least boorish people I know. 

        There’s a 16-page photo section, including a rare pic of Blackwell with The Wailers – rare insofar as he avoided being photographed with Marley lest he seem like the patronising white man. In a nice touch, the cover and interior heads are set in Cooper Black, the soft, chunky font much favoured by Island’s graphics department for their LP sleeves and, of course, the ‘i’ in Island on those pink labels. The index is skimpy. 


*Many years ago, I was sent the manuscript for Hellraiser, Ginger Baker’s autobiography with a view to publishing it with Omnibus Press. I passed, partly because it was shamelessly self-serving and partly because it was riddled with mistakes, one of which was a constant reference to the head of Island Records as Chris Blackmore. I now realise this was probably a deliberate slight



I wasn’t entirely sure what John Lennon meant when he sent me a postcard on January 28, 1977, telling me he was ‘invisible’ but it became pretty clear soon enough. In the years that followed he was invisible to the rock world, wiling away his days on an extended break from music and all the promotional chores that releasing records entailed. The only other musician of John’s stature to have taken a similar step back is David Bowie, ironically also during the last decade of his life, a career decision that might have been promoted by John’s absenteeism.

        Only a select few people knew precisely what John was up to: Yoko, of course, and their infant son Sean; staff at their homes in New York’s Dakota apartment building and elsewhere; a few people from his past, among them the other three Beatles, the odd musician and, probably, son Julian from his first marriage; and a handful others that John bumped into in the course of his wanderings. 

        John was all too well aware that the contradiction between the enormous fame he attained as the boss Beatle and the lower-than-low profile he maintained from 1976 onwards would attract intrusive press speculation but, by and large he succeeded in his quest to become invisible. His whereabouts and doings between 1976 and 1980 were shrouded in relative secrecy at the time and only became public knowledge in a sort of drip-by-drip fashion, mostly from interviews undertaken immediately before his assassination in December 1980 and biographical or memoir-style books published thereafter. Now, all that information has been assembled into this one volume, somewhat misleadingly titled since the first half of the book liberally strays into the half-dozen or so years before 1980. 

What we learn is that John’s relationship with Yoko had its ups and downs, and they spent time apart, albeit remaining faithful in the bedroom department after the 1973-4 separation. Such separations, although temporary, invariably caused John anguish, especially if for some reason he was unable to reach Yoko by phone. Yoko took care of business, buying cows and houses, often basing her decisions on numerical or astronomical charts, leaving John to take up the role of hands-on father to Sean, perhaps to make up for paying scant attention to Julian’s upbringing when he was distracted by Beatle business. 

        He stayed home a lot, read books, magazines and newspapers and watched TV, following the news avidly. He picked up a guitar every now and again to write a snatch of a tune, often recording these bits and pieces on cassette and hoarding them until such a time when he opted to release music again. He was largely graceful to fans who encountered him on his wanderings in the New York Westside neighbourhood where he lived, even to those who somehow eluded the Dakota’s security system, but the most important thing is that he was agreeably content, relaxed, unburdened by any contractual obligations, free to do precisely what he wanted, even learn to bake bread.

        With his green card secured, he was able to travel outside of the US without fear of being refused re-entry, and such travels are covered here in extraordinary detail, thanks no doubt to the author’s interviews with Fred Seaman, the Lennon’s PA, whose 1991 book The Last Days Of John Lennon covered much the same ground. John flew to Japan with Yoko, and, alone, to South Africa for no good reason than a need to observe the Table Mountain at close quarters. He also piloted a yacht to Bermuda in challenging weather conditions, the perilous nature of the voyage suggesting we were lucky not to have lost John to the Black Hole of Andros close to Bermuda, the journey’s destination. This adventure reflects his wilful, slightly eccentric character, the odd leaps and bounds he took when no one, not even Yoko, was looking. Such escapades endear him to me almost as much as his music. 

As the years rolled by, however, the need to make music was uppermost in his mind and second half of the book, largely devoted to 1980, faithfully records numerous sessions under the production aegis of Jack Douglas at the Hit Factory studio in New York. We learn in tremendous detail how the songs that mainly comprised the Double Fantasy album were written and recorded and who played on them, which is not quite as interesting as John’s peripatetic habits in the first half, though there are tantalising particulars of tentative plans he was making for a world tour in 1981. Finally, I was pleased the author avoided all mention of John’s assassin and any gory details of the appalling crime he committed. 

Still, for a detailed account of John’s final days this book is unrivalled. In the picture on the cover, taken by Jack Mitchell on November 2, 1980, during an assignment for The New York Times, bespectacled John, his smile assured, his arms folded, looks to me rather like a left-leaning lecturer on sociology at a red-brick university in the north of England. Among the photos inside is a map of the Dakota’s interiors, as well as a few other pictures from the lost half-decade I hadn’t seen before. There are copious source notes, a comprehensive bibliography but the books lacks an index.  



Elvis is in the news this week, which might mean sales of Caught In A Trap, my book about his kidnapping in 1975, finally reach three figures. 

        Firstly, there is a new biopic about him out which stars Austin Butler as Elvis and Tom Hanks as Col Tom Parker, which I will go and see when it opens in Guildford later his month; and secondly, reports have surfaced that those who control his estate are clamping down on Elvis-styled weddings in Las Vegas, which is the thin end of the wedge for romantically inclined couples eager to tie the knot to the strains of ‘Love Me Tender’.

        The Authentic Brands Group, which control Elvis’ name and image, among others, has sent cease-and-desist letters to several Vegas chapels that offer Elvis-themed ceremonies, the inference being that if they don’t comply they’ll feel the weight of ABG’s high powered lawyers and very deep pockets, a chilling prospect indeed. 

        In their letter, AGB state that while they have no intention of shutting down the Elvis chapels they are, “seeking to partner with each of these small businesses to ensure that their use of Elvis’ name, image and likeness are officially licensed and authorized by the estate, so they can continue their operations.” 

        In other words, they want a slice of the action. This is a bit rich, especially as a glance at the internet reveals there seems to be more Elvis-style wedding venues in Vegas than actual religious settings, and what’s more they’ve been in business for years. So why now? 

        Leaving The Building: The Lucrative Afterlife of Music Estates by Eamonn Forde, the bible of death branding, gives details of earnings by musical estates from the years 2001 to 2020. In seven of those years Elvis tops the charts, comes second eight times and is never out of the top five, with total earnings during this period of $894 million. But they evidently don’t feel this is enough. 

        Now I’m not planning to remarry in a Vegas Elvis chapel or anywhere else for that matter, but if these places do yield to AGB and cough up whatever fees can be negotiated, it’ll no doubt be passed on to the bride and groom, making weddings that bit more expensive due to the premium ABG will collect. 

        Furthermore, AGB’s letter states that they are seeking to shut down unauthorised use of “Presley’s name, likeness, voice image, and other elements of Elvis Presley’s persona in advertisements, merchandise and otherwise,” the inference being that AGB control all this.

        So maybe I ought to have been worried by writing Caught In A Trap. As it happened, the book included snatches of lyrics from six songs associated with Elvis (‘Love Me Tender’, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘One Night’, ‘Always On My Mind’ and ‘Peace In The Valley’) and in 2016, when I’d finished writing it, I played by the rules and wrote to the publishers of these songs seeking permission to use the lyrics. Only one, ‘Love Me Tender’, was controlled by the Elvis estate but they didn’t even bother to reply to my letter. The rest, barring ‘Peace In The Valley’ which was out of copyright, asked for small sums  £25 I think – to clear their use.

        I have read that the new film has been ‘authorised’ by AGB but this does not augur well for it in my opinion. I really hope it isn’t a whitewash but I fear the worst. 

        Finally, since shamelessness is no stranger to the world of Elvis these days, heres a plug for my book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Caught-Trap-Kidnapping-Chris-Charlesworth



Asked by me in 1970 to name his favourite guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore didn’t hesitate. “Albert Lee,” he replied. Pressed further Ritchie, never the humblest of men – “I can play the ass off most guitarists around today,” he once told me – admitted that Lee, Hendrix and Jim Sullivan, who’d given him lessons in the fifties when they lived in the same street in Hounslow, were the only UK guitarists he considered to be superior to himself.

        I ought to have known about Albert Lee but I didn’t, not then. I was new to Melody Maker in 1970 and while I knew all the guitarists in the spotlight – Clapton, Beck, Page, Townshend and the like – I wasn’t familiar with Albert Lee. So, I made enquiries and discovered that at the time he played in a band called Head Hands & Feet that was signed to Island. A call to their PR, my friend David Sandison, and their LP arrived on my desk at MM. It contained Albert’s signature song ‘Country Boy’ and after I’d played it a few times I realised what Ritchie was on about.

        I saw Head Hands & Feet three times in the next couple of years, supporting Mott The Hoople at the Albert Hall in July 1971, and in the final paragraph of a review devoted almost entirely to Mott, wrote: “Head, Hands & Feet opened the show, spotlighting Albert Lee’s guitar mastery to the full. His country sounding solo on ‘Country Boy’ was one of the best guitar solos I have heard in a long time.”

        Now a fan, further exposure to Albert occurred at the Weeley Festival near Clacton-on-Sea that same year and at the Lincoln Festival a year later. Each time my attention was glued to the guitarist.

        He was a skinny little guy with a big grin and a mop of dark curly hair that looked like it had never seen a comb. He bent over his butterscotch Telecaster and played like an American, like the session cowboys of Nashville or his hero James Burton. His solos were dazzling, his licks phenomenal, his runs as quick as lightning, his fingering as accurate as a pocket calculator. He seemed modest too, for while he played like a demon he was never showy, never one to ‘make it cry or sing’, as Mark Knopfler put it, never one to screw up his eyes as if in agony or otherwise invite his audience to look at him and him only. He was restrained when someone else was soloing, content to strum chords and fade back into the rhythm section, and it seemed to me that he shrugged off his skills as if it was nothing, really nothing, just what he did, that’s all. He was what was known in the trade as a musicians’ musician, secure in his skills, a master craftsman. 

        I wanted to meet Albert but never got the chance, not until 1976 when I was doing a story for MM on Emmylou Harris. She was performing at a club on Long Island near New York where I lived at the time and in the afternoon of the show I interviewed her in the dining room of the hotel where she was staying with her Hot Band, their newest recruit Albert. Seems he was asked to replace Burton who’d gone off to play in Elvis’ band, so he was following in the footsteps of his idol, hot on his tail in fact. 

        I learned from her that Albert hadn’t even rehearsed with her band before their first show together. “It came to a stage where we needed a firm commitment from James (Burton) but an Elvis tour came up right at the time we needed him to do some dates with us, so we needed a new guitar player real fast,” Emmylou told me. 

        It was Emory Gordy, the Hot Band’s bass player – he’d seen Albert playing with a latter day line-up of The Crickets – who introduced Lee to the fold. “He came down to see us at a place in San Bernardino and joined in to play every song,” said Emmylou. “He didn’t miss a lick all night.”

        The Hot Band were sat at an adjacent table, polishing off a very late breakfast. Emmylou beckoned Albert over to join us and I shook hands with him for the first time. “I was supposed to go along to two or three gigs and watch James playing, but actually I’d listened to the records so I knew most of the things they were playing anyway,” he said, with the calm ease someone who knows his business. 

        “I’d been living in California for about a year after having worked with Joe Cocker but that had finished so I was looking for a new gig. I was asked to go down to some gigs and if I’d like to do it and I knew even before I saw the band that I would love to. Actually, James got the flu so I was rushed into the band faster than I expected. I went down to a gig to watch and thought I’d bring my guitar just in case. I ended up playing all night.”

    “Someday this band is going to have a rehearsal,” added Emmylou. “Just to see what it’s like.” 

Over the next few years, Albert befriended James Burton  the two can be seen playing together on YouTube  and joined Eric Clapton’s stage band but the next time I saw him was at Abbey Road Studios in 1981. He was there with Chas (Hodges) & Dave (Peacock), both veterans of the UK rock scene from which Albert emerged as a guitarist in the sixties with, among others, Neil Christian & The Crusaders and Chris Farlowe & The Thunderbirds. Chas & Dave were recording a live album in Studio One which had been refitted as a pub for the night and theyd asked Albert along to beef things up. Hodges had played bass in HH&F and both he and Peacock appeared on Albert’s first solo LP, Hiding, released in 1979. 

I chatted with Albert that night, and over a pint or two between sets asked him a bit about his long career. I used this information for his entry in my book A-Z Of Rock Guitarists, in which I recognised his dilemma, writing: “If ever there was a British guitarist who deserved fame and fortune in equal doses, it is Albert Lee. Shy, non-pushy and often indecisive, he has remained in the background while his peers have reaped the rewards that fate has bestowed on them. Without a doubt he is the finest country and western picker in the UK and his feel for the blues can rival Clapton. The truism that it takes more than talent to become a rock star is amply demonstrated in Lee’s case.”

Two years later Albert was on stage at the Royal Albert Hall with The Everly Brothers for their comeback concert, not only as their lead guitarist but as their musical director, not that you’d know it from the Ev’s Reunion Concert CD I have in my collection. None of the backing band – among them pianist Pete Wingfield – are credited in the flimsy liner notes, though Don does introduce them from the stage. As ever Albert’s guitar work is exemplary, mostly fills that replicate run for run the well-known Every Brothers’ recordings, though he takes a stinging blues solo on Jimmy Reed’s ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’ (titled, oddly ‘Blues [Stay Away From Me’] on this CD), and stretches out on the rock’n’roll 12-bars that close the show.

The last time I saw Albert was in June 2012 at a Guitar Master Class in Guildford promoted by Anderton’s, the city’s guitar store. To an audience I judged was 99% guitarists and 1% my wife, Albert, his hair now white, talked about his career, answered questions and, of course, dazzled everyone with a few songs, interspersed with immaculate solos, played on a Music Man guitar with whom he had a sponsorship deal. During the questions, someone asked him why he resigned from Eric Clapton’s band. He played the chug-a-lug riff from ‘Lay Down Sally’ and asked: “Would you want to play that every night?”

A more poignant moment occurred when Albert, who nowadays lives in Los Angeles, talked about being shown around the Paramount Film Studios and finding himself in a storeroom that housed old props. “In there was the guitar that Elvis played in Loving You,” he said. “A lovely Gibson J200 acoustic, blonde. I picked it up but it was in terrible conditions. Its strings were rusty, its neck was warped. No one had cared for it. It was Elvis’ guitar. I wanted to weep.” 

        So big was the crowd that swarmed around him at the end that I was unable to fight my way through and say hello but it didn’t matter. I was simply happy that Albert was being acclaimed by those who recognised a master at work. A snippet of the Master Class can be seen on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0sfQJ7_7_M        

        The next day I bought the CD Albert Lee & Hogan’s Heroes Live At The New Morning, recording on December 1, 2003 in Paris. I’m listening to it right now.

        In 2016 Albert teamed up with Peter Asher to tour the world performing songs by Peter & Gordon, The Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. Now 78, Albert is touring the UK right now and the week after next will be at the Half Moon in Putney. See you there. 



Last Sunday The Who in their 2022 composition performed in Cincinnati, the US city where the burden of expectation is intensified by the events of 1979. This review of the show was sent to me by Glenn Burris, one of many Who fans who connected with me via Facebook and this blog which, over the years, has featured more about The Who than any other rock act. I’m more than happy to post it here on Glenn’s behalf. 

You’d be hard pressed to argue that any major concert in Cincinnati was ever more keenly anticipated than The Who’s show there this past Sunday night. Over the years, there might have been as much build up among rock fans for stadium shows in the city by The Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney or even some guy in a cowboy hat, but this was clearly a different situation. Of course, this would be The Who’s first appearance in the Queen City since the infamous tragedy of December 3, 1979, so both local and national media brought extra attention. This ensured the show would be a true event, not just a Sunday night concert. 

        Circumstances, too, combined to up the ante. The tour stop was originally set for April 2020, the month that showed the world that a pandemic is not a two-week Netflix binge. The following two years saw the construction of soccer-dedicated TQL Stadium, which was chosen as the new venue for this show over the original indoor site in neighboring Kentucky. Now The Who would play in Cincy proper, outdoors, in a burgeoning and elated neighborhood, and in a facility that did not exist two years prior, hosting its first-ever music performance. Mix that with the warm mid-spring weather and the relaxed Covid threat, plus a promise by The Who to give every away every net nickel of their appearance, and it seemed like all hopes for this night might be realized. By and large, they were. 

        For their ticket money, the crowd was given an elegant formula for rock and roll joy and a community-binding experience. But one person seemed to leave the stadium with a pale aura of bitterness and frustration about him. One man walked away looking weary. And he was the auteur for the entire thing, the genesis figure of both the 1979 and 2022 concerts. Pete Townshend left the stage Sunday looking not relieved, nor released. He just looked bruised. The day’s work he had just completed seemed to end with a sour taste, more of a dry thud than a celebratory firework despite the good vibes that seemed to fill the air right next to him. Pete’s complexities, his fraught relationship with Roger Daltrey and with touring (again and again and again) pitted against his love of his own music, were put in a new light by the tenor of the evening. And come the curfew time, he looked like he’d had enough. 

        The two-hour-plus show that preceded what appeared to be a moment of dismay was textbook 21st Century Who. Give that phrase a moment to settle in if you can. This late-model concert, like that of most artists in their class these days, is designed to satisfy the patron that sees The Who one time in their lives. Very little is left to chance in either performance (especially with a platoon of orchestral musicians parked behind a rock band) or the set list. Only one song was gleaned from their most recent album, and it elicited only polite response from the throng. As a matter of fact, you’d be forgiven for imagining a promoter contracting the band to stick a new song right in the middle of the set, so they are sure to sell more beer at that time. 

        Who ’22 looks like just like Who ’19, no matter the silly re-branding of an identically formatted tour as ‘The Who Hits Back’ (At what, you are welcome to ask). There are a few more wrinkles, sure, but other than that, it’s a sequel with a script identical to its precedent, sold to a marketplace with no ceiling on price and who don’t ask for much more than background music for a night out. As always seems the case now, the sound of music is cluttered with the noise of conversations all around you, almost all the time. 

        Still, there is a reason to set aside the cynicism and give our loyalty to The Who room to breathe. There is something impressive and encouraging about the feat of playing big loud music at the ages Roger and Pete have reached. In his recent Audible podcast, Townshend ruminated on the notion of near-80-year-olds presenting this kind of music while at least appearing to have a bang-up time doing it. He correctly stated that this deserves to be seen as a life-affirmation, and asked, “Is this not a celebration of what being alive is?” It was a relief to hear him pose the rhetorical question, even if he added the caveat that he really isn’t enjoying himself on the road. He has said that for years.

        The par-for-the-course Cincinnati concert should certainly get credit for properly pairing the memorial to the eleven who died in 1979 with a professional “Rock and Rollllllll!” concert, which must be no easy task – has any rock band faced this situation before? The names of those lost in the crush were on display all night long as part of the stadium’s electronic bannering system, where you would expect to see the names of car dealers and the crypto currency of the week. Keeping the scroll on these displays at the periphery and not behind the stage did indeed give you the feeling that the spirits of the victims of 42 years past – lives lost as much through the gross behavior of their fellow concertgoers as to the arena’s management – were floating among the living. Other mentions of the missing by Pete and Roger themselves were more than gracious as each walked a tight wire between tribute and entertainment. A video message from Eddie Vedder, who had hoped to make a cameo at this show, was shown before the headliners walked on, but went mostly unnoticed in the chattering of the crowd. 

        The opening act slot was given to a good local band called Safe Passage. Its members were among the survivors of the ’79 calamity. Whoever gave them the gig really deserves a hand. A montage of photos of those who never came home on that cold December night was presented over the piano intro to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, and for ‘Baba O’Riley’, local high school orchestral musicians and singers, with connections to the fine P.E.M. Memorial Scholarship Fund, were given the thrill of an on-stage appearance. You couldn’t help but smile at their glowing young faces. All of this was memorable, well-timed, and evenly balanced. It never felt sticky, it was served in just the right amount. 

        But then such a staged remembrance fits well with a boilerplate performance. One or two choices did veer from the norm: for the hardcore, ‘Relay’ made a welcome band-only appearance, and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ erupted in a mid-set electric version where we usually get it in acoustic duo mode, before the orchestra returned for the third act of the show. 

        The most exciting moment, though, came in the form that it usually does, with an instance of crash-but-not-burn. Just like in a Formula One race when one car scrapes another and then lurches forward to win the next curve, a Townshend brain skip in ‘Eminence Front’ caused him to momentarily forget a verse then rush-read the line to get back on schedule. Experienced Who fans relish these gaffs, because a moment later, without fail, the band will try to make up for them in aggressive fashion. In this case, Pete next unleashed his hottest burst of electric guitar all night. That was not good enough to make up for the fact that the sound of his Stratocaster was consistently buried in a murky mix (so much so that the orchestra could have stayed home for all the good they did). 

        Cincinnati’s new stadium was made for soccer before music and local laws apparently conspired with the venue’s design to, song by song, erode The Who’s literally-carefully-orchestrated performance. Empty metal seating at the end opposite the stage was said, by Pete, to be unavailable for sale simply because that area is not made up of true seats but long benches where people might crowd together. In other words, there is still a legislated local fear of “another Cincinnati”. So, the band played to a giant steel reflector, and it was one of the unwanted ingredients of a concert that never really peaked and included a moment of real buzz kill only at the close of the night. 

        In the final part of the show, as rock- and classically- trained musicians lumbered through a stack of Quadrophenia selections, the giant monitors revealed a Townshend that looked more haggard by the minute. You got the feeling that the complex emotion of the show was manifesting as fatigue and frustration. Up there was the Pete that thinks too much, trying just to get through the work plan. But he kept his cool, playing well enough through his most complicated music, Quad’s instrumental penultimate ‘The Rock’, strategically placed to rest Daltrey’s voice for the last furlong. And Pete made yet another grateful announcement as he welcomed the local kids on to play and sing his phrase-coiner about the “teenage wasteland” turned cop show theme. ‘Baba O’Riley’ is now a flag raised not by Pete or Roger but by the pretty young violinist who dervishes through a perfect reading of Dave Arbus’s Who’s Next solo center stage. But let’s give the 1971 warhorse its due here. The line “Let’s get together before we get much older” likely resounded stronger with this age 60-plus crowd, in place of those not there, than it might at other Who concerts.

        On the back side of that show closer, Roger stepped up to offer his usual benediction. This time it would come with the added component of the gravity of the occasion. But he wandered off script and began to complain about the bounce-back sound he dealt with all evening thanks to the rows of empty metal bleachers. Now, Daltrey is a great philanthropist, and not careless when it comes to charitable and meaningful events. He had an end game in mind, eventually saying that while he suffered from hearing ‘another band’ playing in echo to him all night, at least that band “was better than the one on stage”. But Pete wasn’t in on the joke, and just before Rog could reach the punchline, changing complaint to comedy, Townshend rushed to interrupt his singer, with a look of “What the hell are you doing?!” on his face. It echoed another comment from Pete’s Audible show where he recalled wincing at Roger’s opening remarks in Buffalo, New York, on December 4, 1979, a show that Pete now says The Who should never have played. 

        Local photographer Jon Calderas perfectly captured the moment, a classic on-stage Who misunderstanding, and it can be seen among the many photos from Sunday night at Cincymusic.com: Pete motioning to the off-stage area and apparently trying to tell Roger that it was time to end this monologue. When Roger continued mopping up, Pete hot-footed it for stage left, only to be coaxed back by Daltrey who was awkwardly working toward a conclusion in a long list of thank-yous. 

        Seeing Pete lose a little patience with Roger in public (or vice-versa) is nothing new. It’s one of the charms of Grumpy Old Men. But on Sunday night, beneath the graceful appreciation of lives lived and lost, their physical aches and the strains of their relationship seemed burdened by the cold pains of forty years past. And all of it framed by an elusive terminus for a rock career: a show that never quite stops. For Townshend, it must feel like being on treadmill, while reminding yourself that it’s better to be up on this thing than prone on the floor next to it. When Pete did finally amble off stage with the rest of the gang, nothing in his body language said he reached ‘closure’, a clichĂ© that so many articles this week have used. He just looked like he was stuck in his own past. Again. 

        Cincinnati was longing for The Who’s return, and the duo manned up, no doubt. Roger and Pete are gamers, and they have big hearts. They, and Bill Curbishley and the rest of the management team and the supporting musicians, deserve any blessing this visit to Cincinnati could offer. But you must wonder if at least one of The Two left town this time feeling any less beaten than he had in 1979. 

- Glenn Burris, May 18, 2022, glenn_burris@earthlink.net

Glenn is a corporate communications producer and documentary filmmaker who lives in northern Ohio. A life-long Who fan, the December 3, 1979, was on his fifteenth birthday. Glenn didn’t make it to Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum that night, but has seen The Who dozens of times over the last 40 years. 



Fifty years old this week, the double album Exile On Main Street is being rightly celebrated as the Rolling Stones’ greatest ever LP. The hits compilation Forty Licks aside, it is the Stones’ LP I have listened to the most; released as a single CD in 1994, I doubt any six-month period has passed since when I haven’t played it at least once at home or in my car, a great big smile erupting as ‘Rocks Off’ blasts from my speakers, Keith’s guitar swinging into action as Mick sings ambiguously about sex and, possibly, the perils it can bring. 

        It’s a downhill, helter-skelter ride from there, not a duff track among the 17 that follow, a smorgasbord of hi-energy rock, spirited gospel, honky country and soupy blues. Never again would the Stones sound so confident, so convincing, so energised, so prolific, so eclectic, so wrapped up in their musical ideals in the space of one LP, albeit one that occupied four sides of vinyl. When I play it now I sense a sort of musical claustrophobia, as if the group was cramming as much into it while they could, perhaps even making a final grand statement before the money ran out and they imploded into a mess of Mick’s upwardly mobile ambitions, Keith’s drug addiction, Charlie’s ambivalence, Bill’s gloom and Mick Taylor’s inexperience. 

        We could be forgiven for thinking that ‘All Down The Line’ and ‘I Just Want To See His Face’ were produced by different bands. The former – which was actually recorded 18 months earlier in Los Angeles – ranks alongside any of the Stones’ great Chuck Berry rewrites, a Grade-A rocker that demands repeated plays, while the latter is a swampy voodoo chant in the style of Dr John, the sort of thing that might be heard at a gospel church in Mississippi where the congregation speaks in tongues. 

        No two songs on the entire record are less alike than this pair, and they are matched by the incomparable ‘Tumbling Dice’, with its layer after layer of sinewy guitar lines, or the country campfire vibe of ‘Sweet Virginia’, in which Gram Parsons surely had a hand, and its companion piece ‘Torn And Frayed’, or the relentless, almost punk, pace of ‘Rip This Joint’, or Keith’s own ‘Happy’, virtually a one-man band creation. 

        Everywhere you look there’s something to gorge on: the James Moore cover ‘Shake Your Hips’, aka ‘Hip Shake’, given a sensuous Southern twist; the OTT tribute to Angela Davis that was ‘Sweet Black Angel’; the down-home blues of ‘Stop Breaking Down’, rearranged from Robert Johnson’s original with Mick Taylor on slide; the sumptuous gospel of ‘Loving Cup’ with Nicky Hopkins’ cascading piano; even the throwaway ‘Turd On The Run’, another pacy sprint with Mick’s harp howling in the wind.

        What have I missed? Bobby Key’s sax in ‘Casino Boogie’; the sleazy ‘Ventilator Blues’; the emotion-packed, choral majesty of ‘Let It Loose’; and the swaggering finale ‘Soul Survivor’, the cue to start again at the beginning, as I so often have. 

In Keith’s book, Life, the Stones’ guitarist says the title of the album came from the group’s tax-imposed exile in the South of France where the LP was recorded, the main street being the Riviera coast road that stretched from Cannes to Monte Carlo. Being cooped up in NellcĂ´te, the 18-room mansion built in the 1890s in the hills above Villefranche Sur Mer, the Stones and their entourage of wives, crew and additional musicians like Keys, Jim Price, Parsons and Hopkins, had nothing else to do but eat, drink and make music, urgently, and result still sounds spectacular. 



Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, 2022

Disappointingly but predictable in the light of my previous form, only one of my nominees to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame will be inducted later this year. From the list of 17 nominees, the permitted five I chose were Beck, Eurythmics, MC5, The New York Dolls and Rage Against The Machine, but of the five only Eurythmics were given the nod by the rather mysterious – some would say sinister – committee that decides these things. 

        This is not the first time that MC5, the Dolls and Rage have been passed over, as have a few others from the list of nominees for whom I did not vote, among them Kate Bush. Aside from Eurythmics, the lucky inductees are Eminem, Dolly Parton, Duran Duran, Lionel Ritchie, Pat Benatar and Carly Simon.

        Dolly’s inclusion is controversial insofar as she recused herself from being inducted on the grounds that she’s not rock’n’roll, which is true and which is why I didn’t vote for her myself. As I opined in my post on 11 March, she’s a great performer but she’s country with a capital C and does not therefore belong in the R&RHoF. She evidently agrees but the committee ignored her wishes and voted her in anyway. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be.

        I am angry that the New York Dolls have been overlooked yet again. If ever a band held true to the spirit of rock’n’roll, the defiance, the casual disregard for civility, the sticking two fingers up to authority, it was the Dolls. Their output was small but their impact was massive. In many ways the Dolls were the American Sex Pistols, certainly as shocking and almost as influential, and the same applies in many respects to MC5, who kept a few ghastly Republican politicians awake at night. For both these groups – and The Smiths for that matter – to have been dismissed in favour of an act like Duran Duran is a disgraceful action that brings into question the very meaning of rock’n’roll in the eyes of those who administer the Hall of Fame. 

        Then again, it’s not the first time their judgement has reeked of duplicity. I have nothing really against Duran Duran beyond the fact that their music was not to my taste and much of their appeal seemed to rely on how they dressed, but heaven forbid that the decision to induct them rested on the fact that all five of their original line up are still alive – as opposed to only one from the Dolls – which means Duran and their record label are likely to buy far more costly tickets to the induction ceremony in November. Surely not? 

        Each year I question why I continue to vote. Nowadays the acts nominated produce music that more often than not passes me by but, with a few exceptions, lack the attributes required to be inducted into an institution that, when it was originated in 1968, rewarded genuine excellence. It all boils down to a simple question: do Pat Benatar and Duran Duran really belong alongside Elvis, Chuck, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dylan, Who, Jimi, Neil Young, Led Zep, Bowie, Springsteen and the like? Do the New York Dolls for that matter? Maybe I’m just too bloody old. 


BLONDIE, Brighton Centre, April 28, 2022

To Brighton for a Blondie concert and the realisation that what I’ve missed the most during the Covid-induced famine of live gigs is the feeling you get in your chest from a loud electric bass, the deep-rooted foundation of a rock band in action as they deliver their songs in the best way imaginable. To a certain extent I can recreate vocals and wailing guitars on my hi-fi system, and even the drums if I punch up the volume, but no way can I reproduce the boom of a Fender Precision plugged into a big amp and big speaker cabinet, then dispatched through a PA system into a decent-sized auditorium such as Brighton Centre. 

        It helped that the bass in question was wielded, deftly but unobtrusively, by Glen Matlock, the Sex Pistol jettisoned from the group for displaying too much in the way of musical chops yet lacking the tone-deaf nihilism of his successor. Glen went on to other bands and also became a bass man for hire amongst his peers, and a very good one too, but his arrival in Blondie – at three weeks’ notice, he tells me – came as a bit of a surprise, though it evens out the generational divide between the three younger members of the group as it is now constituted, and the two older hands, singer Debbie Harry and unrelenting drummer Clem Burke.

        With founder, principal songwriter and guitarist Chris Stein taking a sabbatical on doctors’ orders, it is left to Tommy Kessler and newcomer Andee Blacksugar – what a great rock’n’roll name – to handle the guitar duties between them, switching leads and generally adopting a sort of twin guitar duo role that reminded me a bit of the sparring that went on in Lynyrd Skynyrd. Both sing well, as does keyboard player Matt Katz-Bohen, and Glen chips in a bit too, so the vocal backdrop to their revered singer is never less than imposing. 

        But the spotlight, as ever, is on Debbie. Remarkably, this foremost New York punk siren, graduate with honours from CBGBs, turns a mature 77 in July but rather than occupy a rocking chair with a cat and bundle of knitting in her lap she prefers to rock the stage dressed in red leopard-skin tights and a black bin liner held in place with a wide red belt, her blonde hair flying wildly in all directions, her poise as energetic and turbulent as ever. Debbi’s voice remains clear and strident, though she wisely eschewed straining for some of the top notes in the group’s gold-plated catalogue of hits. Thankfully, she abandoned her sunglasses midway through the show so we could see her still-handsome features in close up on the video screens each side of the stage and, having taken the measure of the audience, she seemed sincerely delighted to be singing her songs again after the Covid postponements, grateful that Brighton’s Blondie fans turned out in such large numbers to see her band. 

        It was, by and large, a greatest hits show, accompanied by plenty of imaginative, occasionally quirky, personalised graphics on a large screen at the back. I liked how King Kong’s great paw held Debbie, the Lichtenstein comic and op-art style visuals, and the footage of the group from their Parallel Lines days. Someone had even drawn a glass heart that smashed into smithereens. 

        The concert opened with ‘X-Offender’ and closed, just over 90 minutes later, with ‘One Way Or Another’. The sound was fat and ballsy and well-mixed throughout, the band well-drilled, the set clearly and cleverly rehearsed to align with the visuals. Of the generous 21 songs delivered, 15 were from the 1970s, with the remaining six, among them ‘Maria’, including only two, ‘Long Time’ and ‘Fragments’, from their most recent album, 2017’s Pollinator which they promoted heavily on their last UK tour the same year and which I rated very highly. I wouldn’t have complained if they played two or three more from it. 

        Still, it was the hits the crowd wanted, and they weren’t disappointed. After ‘Sunday Girl’, ‘Picture This’ and ‘The Tide Is High’ there was a slight lull during ‘What I Heard’ but the concert moved up a gear during ‘Atomic’, Debbie inciting a mass singalong on that lovely ‘Oh, your hair is beautiful’ line, and thereafter she never looked back. Some songs were neatly segued together, ‘Fade Away And Radiate’ into ‘Tide’ – which featured two unexpected grungy solos - and ‘Shayla’ into a power-packed ‘Union City Blue’. The four-song pre-encore hell-for-leather ride through ‘Rapture’, ‘Maria’, ‘Dreaming’ and ‘Heart Of Glass’, heralded by jungle drums, seemed like a knockout blow, but they returned for four more, ‘No Exit’, ‘Fragments’ – an odd choice in the light of its complexity – ‘Call Me’ and ‘One Way Or Another’, another mass singalong. At this, the ninety-minute mark, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Debbie’s stamina and, of course, Clem’s unrelenting assault on his drums, a pace he sustained throughout with characteristic resilience. 

        The 2022 Blondie tour visits Hull tonight then five more UK cities before transferring to America’s west coast, Mexico and, in August, some big shows in the east, including a couple in their native New York. If what I saw in Brighton last night is anything to go by, there’s still plenty of life in Blondie, with or without founder Chris Stein.

        Finally, I should add that due to slow service in a burger joint on nearby Duke Street, we regrettably missed most of Johnny Marr’s opening set but the four songs I heard, among them ’How Soon Is Now’ and ‘There Is A Light A Light That Never Goes Out’ sounded terrific and, as ever, the former Smiths guitarist looked great too. 



Watching Fake News: A True History, an appropriately droll documentary presented by Private Eye editor Ian Hyslop on BBC4, the other night reminded me of this picture which I saw on the internet recently and was puzzled as to when and where it was taken. As far as I could establish from the many reference books on my shelves, The Beatles and The Everly Brothers never performed on the same show together, either on stage as part of the same bill, or on a TV show, either here or in America, or anywhere else for that matter.    

        Then a friend more knowledgeable than myself told me it was faked. The Beatles in this shot, he told me, were posing backstage in late 1963 at the Finsbury Park Astoria where they appeared in ‘The Beatles Christmas Show’ for 16 nights, closing on January 11, 1964. 

        He didn’t know where the picture of the Everlys came from but I discovered from my own research that it was taken in London by Harry Hammond, probably in 1960 though the two sources I found were inconsistent with the year. Hammond, who died in 2009, specialised in photographing the British pop scene from the 1950s onwards, becoming NME’s primary photographer for several years. 

        The Everlys toured the UK for the first time in April 1960, and other shots from the same session show them on a hotel balcony with the skyline of London behind them. According to Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In book, George Harrison caught them on April 25 at The Liverpool Empire when they were backed by The Crickets, sadly lacking their leader Buddy Holly, a victim of the 1959 plane crash that also claimed Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. 

        Despite the overwhelming evidence that The Beatles, especially Paul, were heavily influenced by The Everly Brothers, there are only two recorded examples of the Fabs covering the Everlys. On the first BBC sessions album George sings ‘So How Come (No One Loves Me)’, one of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant’s lesser songs, recorded by Don and Phil for their A Date With The Everly Brothers LP in 1960, and in the recent six-hour plus Get Back movie, The Beatles jam for just over a minute on ‘Bye Bye Love’, with John taking the lead. Again thanks to Mark Lewisohn’s book, I learned that ‘Bye Bye Love’ was released in the UK on July 5, 1957, the day before John first met Paul at the church fete in Woolton. Much later, of course, Paul wrote ‘On The Wings Of A Nightingale’ especially for the Everlys, released in 1984. 

        A bit more digging divulges that the picture was probably faked for the cover of a slim paperback called The Everly Brothers & The Beatles, by Mandy Rennie which I suspect is a pseudonym. The evidence for this assumption is there for all to see on Amazon which advertises scores of slim paperback books by Ms Rennie, about celebrities from all walks of life, film, music, politics and sport. Oddly, all of them were published by Blurb Books on the same day in 2019!



While I was posting those memoirs last week I failed to notice that Just Backdated had notched up 1,250,000 hits, another milestone which – like other big round numbers along the way – I will comment on with a bit of analysis.

        JB reached one million hits in October 2020, at which point I’d notched up 828 posts which averaged 1,207 hits per post. There are now 908 posts which means that figure has risen to 1,377 hits per post, so it seems more people have discovered Just Backdated in the past 18 months, probably as a result of lockdown and folk spending more time surfing the internet.

        With one notable exception, the top 20 of posts with most views hasn’t changed much. The surprise is that my rejected proposal for ghost-writing the autobiography of Mandy Moon, Keith’s daughter, has leapt into second place with 20.3k hits, easily dislodging the story about Moonie with John and Paul Beatle in Santa Monica in 1974 which slips to fourth place, with the post about Jimmy Page’s houses sneaking in at number three on 14.7k. In the last survey I did the Mandy post had 6.07k kits, so over 14,000 hits in the last 18 months makes it the most popular recent post. Quite why is anybody’s guess.  

        Equally oddly, while the synopsis post has had over 20k hits now, the actual sample chapter I wrote (and posted three days later) has had only 797 hits, which implies that less than 5% of those who read the synopsis went on to read the actual chapter. Explanations on a postcard please… 

        With 6,000 fewer hits, Jimmy’s impressive real estate is unlikely to challenge Mandy, who’s obviously on a roll, for second place, let alone top spot which, as ever, is my review of the CD of The Who at the Fillmore East in 1968, with a still magnificent 49.7k hits, the same evened-up number as 18 months ago though it’s probably a bit more now, just that the computer doesn’t register increases of less than 1,000 hits at this level. Whatever… almost 50k hits is still well more than twice its nearest rival, a massive lead unlikely ever to be contested. 

        The remainder of the entries in the top ten are pretty much as before, with 16 Who related, two Led Zep, one Deep Purple and the wild card, my story about the North of England Beer Drinking Contest in 1968. I’m well pleased that this tale of gross intemperance still holds on to fifteenth spot. The top 20 now reads: 

1) The Who Live At Fillmore East CD review – 47.7k hits

2) Mandy Moon book treatment – 20.3k

3) Jimmy Page’s residences – 14.7k

4) John, Paul & Keith Moon at Santa Monica – 14k

5) Jimmy Page meeting Robert Plant – 6.6k

6) Palazzo Dario, Kit Lambert’s Venice Palace – 5.59k

7) News of Who UK tour (2014) – 5.16k

8) Keith Moon & The Pythons – 4.29k

9) Launching Dear Boy – 4.15k

10) The Who, My Hidden Gems CD – 4.15k

11) Deep Purple in Jakarta – 3.91k

12) The Who in Hyde Park, 2015 – 3.59k

13) Keith Moon’s residences – 3.01k

14) John Entwistle Tribute – 3.22k

15) The North of England Beer Drinking Contest – 3.14k

16) The Ox (John Entwistle) book review – 2.91k

17) Pretend You’re In A War (Who) book review 2.83k

18) ‘Underture’, Keith’s Great Triumph – 2.82k

19) Pete Townshend Interview (1974) – 2.75k

20) The Who at Stafford in 1975 – 2.7k

        No change in where the hits come from either, USA followed by the UK followed by Russia, and while hits from Russia (on 123k) have tailed off in the last few weeks for obvious reasons, Canada, in fourth place with 37k, has a long way to go to challenge for the bronze medal. I’m mildly suspicious about all those hits from Russia, especially as they have fluctuated wildly in the past two years, like 5,000 one week and zilch the next. 

        Anyway, thanks once again to all who visit Just Backdated and I’ll try to keep it up for as long as I can.